Tuesday, June 23, 2009

BSC #15: Little Miss Stoneybrook...and Dawn


Brief Synopsis:

It's the Little Miss Stoneybrook pageant, a pageant for girls in Stoneybrook ages 5 to 8. Since most of you have either seen Little Miss Sunshine or have a subscription to TLC, I'm going to trust you know how creepy the world of child pageantry is. It all starts when Mrs. Pike calls up the BSC asking for Dawn to help Claire and Margo in the competition (Mrs. Pike will be too busy to help and their older sister, Mallory, has the good sense to recognize pageantry for sexism run amok). All the other girls get jealous and find their own JonBenets (Kristy asks Karen if she wants to do it, Claudia twists Charlotte Johanssen's arm, and Mary Anne, lucky, lucky MA, gets Myriah). The girls get uber competitive because nothing is more important to teenage girl self-worth than being a good beauty pageant coach.

In the end, most of the girls do pretty badly except for Myriah who, in between tap dancing lessons and How to be Shirley Temple indoctrination courses, seems to have the contest in the bag. But a girl called Sabrina Bouvier who is described as wearing make up and acting and looking like a 25 year old in little girl form, wins it and Myriah gets first runner up. D'oh. At least she's a shoo-in for Miss Congeniality. Oh, and she wins a shopping spree at a toy store.

Side note. This is the official book where Jeff moves back to California. Dawn has conniptions because she feels rejected by her own brother. Ha. Even Jeff can't stand her. Go marry a carrot, Dawn!
  • The theme of this book? That the thirteen year old BSC members are ALL insecure losers. Early on, Dr. Johanssen calls up for a sitter saying that Charlotte has especially requested Claudia (because Claudia is Stacey's best friend and Charlotte misses Stacey who recently moved back to NYC), they all get really pissy and start pointing out that they're all great babysitters, too. MA called 911 when Jenny Prezzioso had a fever, Dawn rescued two kids from a fire (which translates to "I checked a couple of smoke detectors"), Kristy thought of kid-kits which Charlotte loves. Yeah, you guys are awesome and you all win, okay? Honestly, I haven't seen this much desperate insecurity since the episode of Sex and the City where the girls are all, "Does being easy and wearing Manolos make up for not being twenty something models?" Oh, hell, that's every episode.
  • But Dawn wins at being insecure. When Mallory and Jessi join the BSC, Kristy holds a makeshift induction ceremony for them at one of the meetings. They recite a little babysitting oath and put their hands on the club notebook. It's pretty cheesey but Mal and Jessi get a real kick out of it. Dawn, however, enviously looks on, thinking that the only reason she didn't get one was that Kristy was jealous of her when she first joined (because of Dawn and Mary Anne becoming such good friends). Uh, no, maybe this is Kristy's way of making up for being such a little shit in Hello Mallory! is what I think. Aw, Dawn, come on. I'll give you an oath. Here, put your hand on The Anarchist's Cookbook and...what? You SAID you were an individual.
  • So, this sets the stage for why Dawn is uber happy to coach Claire and Margo in the contest. Mrs. Pike especially asks for Dawn because she lives so close to the Pikes that she won't need a ride. Dawn smiles righteously, knowing this proves she's a great sitter. No, this proves that you got lucky real estate wise.
  • So of course, all the little girls need to do something for the talent portion. Claire's talent is singing the Popeye song while wearing a sailor suit. Margo's is peeling a banana with her feet and reciting The House that Jack Built. Dawn thinks it's hopeless and is about this close to slipping the judges a pair of George Washingtons. And then when she hears about how Mary Anne gets to coach Stoneybrook's resident Judy Garland wannabe, Myriah Perkins, she thinks, "Maybe I was just disappointed that the Pike girls were going to peel bananas and sing about wo-orms and ge-erms. At any rate, Myriah seemed like hot competition." You know how some kids wanted Cabbage Patch kids in the 80s? And then other kids wanted Furbies in the 90s? You know Ann M. wanted a Myriah Perkins to keep on her bed. (Myriah, incidentally, tap dances and sings Good Ship Lollipop.)
  • Mallory and Jessi are the only two girls who don't have to forfeit possible admission to any feminist college worth its salt. They both think that this is an incredibly sexist event, which is pretty advanced talk for 11 year olds. Hopefully in a few years, after Mallory gets through The Beauty Myth, she'll also recognize that it fosters body image issues times a thousand. (Yeah, I know, quel irony. This blog entry from a girl who went to an all women's school but actually watches America's Next Top Model marathons while eating bonbons and yelling at the plus sized contestants to put down the brownies. Ahem!)
  • Margo wears painter's pants to recite her poem. She considers getting a monkey suit but Dawn points out that the monkey suit has feet and Margo needs to be barefoot to peel her banana. Oh please, please, Dawn, let her get the monkey suit. The idea of a girl in a beauty pageant wearing a monkey suit is the most deliciously subversive thing I've read about since hearing that a bunch of feminists crowned a sheep Miss America.
  • Charlotte Johanssen, a very shy eight year old who hates performing, is pretty reluctant to be in the pageant to begin with because she says you need to be pretty to enter. Claudia tells her it's more than a beauty contest (right, Claud, and you're going to cast the dumpy 5'2 girl with Gumby legs to wear your fashions when you're on Project Runway, yes?).
  • Claudia also thinks that even though Charlotte is very pretty, she doesn't think of herself that way. Is anyone who's read a single BSC book surprised when Charlotte breaks down in tears during the talent portion and has to be taken home? All three of the "mature" people who allowed this (Charlotte's parents and Claudia) need to be sentenced to a good long stay on Monster Island. Don't look so nervous, guys, it's just a name. (Monster Island is, in fact, a peninsula.)
  • The BSC members get super competitive and refuse to tell each other what their contestants are doing. Okay, Kristy, no one's going to poach Karen's talent (singing about a thousand versions of The Wheels on the Bus). To be fair, Charlotte's talent is the only one I actually liked--reciting the Violet turning into a blueberry scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Except I think I need to stuff Claudia to death with Twinkies for probably doing more than even Tim Burton himself (damn you and your Willy Wonka as the son of an over zealous dentist subplot!) to turn Charlotte off that wonderful, wonderful book.
  • Dawn asks her mom to come watch the pageant, knowing that Sharon's probably depressed about Jeff leaving. Plus, she can sit next to Richard, who's there supporting Mary Anne. Also, this will be a way to make Richard look a lot less skeevey (c'mon, 40 something year old single man at a children's pageant--can you get any more John Mark Karr?).
  • Backstage at the pageant, Dawn tells Margo she's on after a girl named Sabrina Bouvier. Margo stares at the trollop wearing make up, and says she bets that's her because who else would be named Sabrina Bouvier? Oh, I don't know, what if Jackie O. had an unmarried sister who had a child out of wedlock that she wanted to name after her favorite Audrey Hepburn movie?
  • Then the other sitters talk shit about how Sabrina Bouvier, like how she really isn't even all that pretty. The fuck? Claudia, weren't you just reassuring Char that this isn't a beauty contest? And at the end, none of them really care who wins just as long as it's one of "their kids" and not that pageant head, Sabrina.
  • So, the judges ask each girl a question. Crap like, "What would you change about the world?" or "What do you most hope for in the year 2010?" or "Do you think that every state should allow gay marriage?" Myriah's response to the judge's question (what would you change about the world): "'It would be wars...I would say to the people who are making the wars, "Now you stop that. You settle this problem yourselves like grown-ups. Our children want peace."'" Well, hell's bells, take away Jimmy Carter's Nobel and give it here. For the record, if Sadako had been asked that question, she would have taken Myriah's little speech and applied it to girls who sport whale tails and tramp stamps.
  • One of the contestants responds that her favorite part of Stoneybrook is the ice cream store. Dawn thinks that she blew it. Oh, cram it, Dawn, the ice cream store also sells tofutti. (What IS the "correct" answer? The time vortex near the library? The great support for people who have juvenile onset diabetes?) Claire gets aufed, too, because she responds that the thing she wants most is Santa Claus--she hopes he's real. Aww. Well, Sadako would fail out, too. The thing she wants most these days are real eyebrows and to know if Cecil Adams is real.
  • Karen's question is what would she rescue from her burning house. (Gee, they didn't specify. Big house or little.) She says she'd rescue one of her stuffed animals, her blanket, her pen that writes in many colors and possibly Andrew if she had time. Since I live alone, I don't have to worry about saving humans. I'd like to think I could save my mp3s and cosmetic collection and my Sopranos DVDs without fear of looking like an asshole.
  • Margo gets an easy question that she's supposed to answer with "Global peace" but since Sabrina Bouvier already used that answer ("What do you most want for the year 2010?), she has no idea how to answer. Once again, Sadako has an answer prepared. I want Freaks and Geeks or My So-Called Life to resume for another five or ten seasons. Hey, this is fun. I could do this pageant crap. Hand me a banana and it's go time.
  • Sabrina's talent is singing Moon River which Dawn hasn't even heard of. (Oh, come on, Ann M., they're thirteen year olds who have seen every old movie ever made but they haven't seen Breakfast at Tiffany's?) And this is the second Audrey Hepburn reference in the book. Hmm. I think I have to give Ann M. points for having the girl who's all tarted up for the pageant singing a song that was made popular in a movie about a happy go lucky prostitute. Subversion? No, wait, it's Ann.
  • Dawn thinks that she herself wouldn't mind winning the toy spree so she could stock up on her kid-kit. And I think, right, Dawn, is the Antonio Banderas life size blow up doll made popular by TV's South Park, really going to fit in any kid-kit?
  • Mary Anne comes this close to breaking down and crying when Myriah only gets first runner up. I come this close to smacking her with a wet noodle.
I decided to find hideous pageant type photos for all the little girls.

Okay, if Mary Anne had her way, Myriah would be working the east coast pageant circuit with ten wins by the time she turns six, and Gabbie waiting in the wings just in case Myriah stops being cute. Here's Myriah's airbrushed photo.


Margo "this is the crack that Jack sold" Pike.


Claire "Sailor Trash" Pike


Karen Brewer. No rest for the weary.


Charlotte "I'm so not ready for my close-up" Johanssen.


Oh, and then there's the crown winner. Sabrina Bouvier, take a bow.


(Yes, there were creepier JonBenet Ramsey photos out there to choose from. And no, my skin hasn't stopped crawling.)

Dawn, you can leave your feminist card on my desk, honey. Yeah, next time you start up with your "Girls can do anything" speech, I'm going to bring this up. Oh, yeah, and Travis. Oh yeah, and Lewis. Oh, and the time you forgot that girls can be psychopathic armed clown robbers, too. How the fuck do you intend to lead the paraplegic little person division of Take Back the Night with these skeletons in your closet?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

BSC Mystery #4: Kristy and the Missing Child


One of the members of the team that Kristy coaches is missing! Little Jake Kuhn is gone and Kristy is the last person to see him go (Thursday night). So she feels majorly guilty about it, and decides to try to find him by mounting a series of search parties full of little kids from the neighborhood and babysitters. It's a pretty uneventful book, actually, full of chapter after chapter of searching. And wondering if maybe Mr. Kuhn (the Kuhns are divorced) kidnapped Jake because that's what fathers in BSC books do. (See also Buddy Barrett.) Finally, Kristy leads a search party on Saturday morning and one of her searchers, Matt Braddock, has the idea to look in a construction site where he and Jake loved to hang out. Turns out Jake pulled a baby Jessica and fell down a hole where the floor wasn't completed. He gets rescued. And scene.
  • What do I love most about this book? The fact that Mary Anne clearly cares way more about her Home Ec grade than little Jake Kuhn. She even misses an emergency BSC meeting about finding Jake so she can stay home and work on some sewing project. Actually, I agree. C'mon, if you're going to write a book about a missing child, choose a kid I give a shit about. Nicky Pike. Jamie Newton. Damien. Not some little boy I've barely seen before.
  • Speaking of Home Ec, I don't remember ever being graded on things like table setting or recipes. We'd have to bake things in groups and sometimes sew, but it wasn't like they were tests. You'd probably have had to drop arsenic into the cake batter to fail. Or tell the teacher that you didn't make the cookies with love, but rather with spite, and also Ipecac. (Even then, her idea of "failing" you would be to give you a B+ but no smiley faced sticker.) Anyway, Mary Anne makes a Jell-O mold that's too hard. She gets an idea while babysitting to put the Jell-O in a long pan so she can make cookie cut-outs and ends up salvaging her grade. Can anyone say JIGGLERS?! In the distance, I hear Bill Cosby loading his .45 and muttering about how he's going to cut a bitch. Now I know why Ann M. Martin decided to make Charlotte's favorite show The Cosby Show when you know she was jonesing for it to be I Love Lucy--anything so that Bill won't sue, right?
  • Mrs. Kuhn's first thought is that Mr. Kuhn must have snatched Jake. Which reminds me of the time Dawn is sitting for the Barretts and Buddy Barrett gets into a car with Mr. Barrett who takes him away somewhere. (The Barretts are also divorced.) So, to recap, in Stoneybrook, it's totally normal for a father to try to kidnap his son, for criminals to just set up shop for a while, and for people to regularly get creepy letters in the mail. But no one knows about anorexia, the stork brings babies, and no one drinks.
  • Kristy mentions that Jake used to be pudgy and that the Bashers used to make fun of him for it. Translation: fat kid walking! Oink, little piggie, oink! Why the hell is it that Kristy befriends all these people who "used to be" jerks. (She should befriend people who still are snarky, like me!) But really, Bart's Bashers made fun of a lot of Krushers back in the day (like Matt Braddock for being deaf or Gabbie for being a superhuman baby) but it's okay because it was in the past? And Shannon used to be a heinous bitch to Kristy in her first book and even calls in a fake fire alarm when Kristy's babysitting but we overlook all that for some reason because she's a perfect size six blonde.
  • Kristy's mom picks Kristy and Shannon up from the emergency BSC meeting Thursday night so she can stop in and visit Mrs. Kuhn afterward (Kristy's mom and Jake's mom are friends). Kristy suddenly feels guilty at the prospect of seeing Mrs. K because she feels responsible for letting Jake go off on his own. Even though Mrs. K says it's not her fault, she still knows she won't rest until Jake is safe. Hm, you think maybe Mrs. Kuhn feels guiltier that that her alimony wasn't covering the rent and she had to sell Jake to the Colombian Drug Cartel to finance her dirty little habit?
  • Laurel and Patsy, Jake's two little sisters, are sent off to the Pikes to have dinner the first night Jake is gone. Patsy, the youngest, turns up her nose at spaghetti and says she wants hot dogs. And then all the kids request hot dogs. Mallory offers to boil up some dogs and Mrs. Pike just goes with it. Well, with the Pike kid count up to eight, we know that woman can't say no to a wiener, amirite? (Thank you, thank you, here all week. Hey, did you ever know me to pass up a Dee Pike loves the cock joke?)
  • After dinner, Laurel and Patsy Kuhn spend the night with Stacey and her mom night since their mother is, understandably, spazzing out. They have a popcorn party. The girls want to know if Stacey has The Little Mermaid and Stacey says she's afraid that most of her movies are probably too old for them. Um, Mary Poppins is your favorite movie, Stacey. Imagine if the girls were at Mary Anne's house post Internet, though. A thousand archived youtube videos of animals romping, sorted by size, species, and of course, by level of cuteness. (C'mon, don't you think an adult Mary Anne Spier was responsible for Cute Things Falling Asleep? I bet the woman's making a mint on the Internet these days.)
  • Mrs. Kuhn calls Kristy at one point saying that they found letters from her ex-husband to Jake that mentioned Mr. Kuhn's girlfriend and that she may know where Mr. Kuhn is so they can contact him. Kristy thinks it's odd that Mrs. Kuhn doesn't seem upset or jealous about her ex having a special lady friend. Uh, because she's probably more concerned with getting her prize pig missing child back than with playing at drama queen? What's the matter with you, Kristy?
  • David Michael's a teeny bit jealous of how good Jake's getting as relief pitcher for the Krushers. Kristy always goes out of her way to describe DM as kind of klutzy, too. Is it wrong that I think he pulled a Tonya Harding? Then again, this is Stoneybrook, CT, not South Park, CO, and I doubt that David Michael would stash Jake Kuhn in a nuclear fallout shelter a la Cartman. Still, it made for an entertaining fantasy.
  • The BSCers arrange to make groups to help search for Jake. Claudia makes a sign with a sketch of little Jake. Sketch? You didn't have a single photograph to use? Come on, guys. Through the magic of googling I managed to find a few likenesses.


  • The kids look in garages, in bushes, and in backyards. What are they expecting to find? Jake sleeping? Or Jake...uh...no longer with us? In which case, is it really appropriate to bring kids along?
  • Andrew, David Michael, and Karen start freaking out because they're scared they might be kidnapped. Karen, you know they're going to pull a Ransom of Red Chief and pay your parents to take you back, right?
  • Later, Kristy, Bart, and a bunch of kids (Matt and Haley Braddock, Karen, Andrew, and David Michael) set off looking for Jake on Sunday. Matt's first idea is to go to a store where he and Jake used to buy baseball cards and candy called Jugtown. (Yeah, that's why they went to a store called JUGtown.)
  • Kristy wants to stop looking, but Matt convinces her to go look in a construction yard where a house is being built. And it turns out he's right. Are you really surprised that the deaf kid pulled it off? For one thing, the Krushers are chock full of shitty players and the one consistently talented one is Matt Braddock. I'm not screaming about PC Gone Amok just yet (not till Rush Limbaugh successfully possesses my body anyway), but c'mon. The only thing more feel good than the spunky disabled kid finding Jake would be if Jake were found by rag tag team comprised of Becca Ramsey, Danielle (the cancer kid), Susan "Rain Girl" Felder and a little person.
  • When they find Jake (isn't it always the last place you look), Bart calls the police and Mrs. Kuhn and tosses Jake a paper bag full of Twinkies, Doritos and Kit Kats, courtesy of the owner of JugTown. When Mrs. Kuhn arrives, she says, "'This is one time I don't mind if he eats junk.'" Uh, the fact that you just discovered your missing son who hasn't eaten in 36 hours and your first thought is to point out how much you don't care about the junk food issue makes me doubt that. Methinks she'll be subtracting out these calories from Jake's feed trough tonight.
  • At the end, they have these eighth grade awards. Stuff like Class Clown, Best Dresser and so forth. Mary Anne gets one for Most Improved Home Ec student. They give Kristy a very special award because of her work that led to Jake Kuhn being rescued. Kristy does give Matt Braddock a shout-out since it was his idea to look there. I do have to give Kristy props for organizing the search groups. Of course, you know she only organized this because she'd have a fit if someone else could take credit for finding Jake. But I don't think this is one of her Great Ideas. It's a nice effort but NOT an imaginative idea. Seriously. How many other options were there? A kid goes missing. Do you A). Look for him. B). Design a hat. C). Have a snickers bar. D). Throw a party. E). All of the above. (It's only D. if the kid in question is Karen Brewer.) I have the same beef (okay, tofu, whatever) with Dawn's "great idea" of helping the Zunis. ("The Zuni kids are in trouble? What should we do?" "Um...well, we could...HELP them?")
  • So they find Jake in the end. In other news, every single member of the Stoneybrook police was summarily fired. Out of a cannon, into the sun. No, but I bet they made Matt Braddock a junior police officer with a little badge and all the other cops were jealous and made snide remarks about him right in front of his back because he can't read lips. And Kristy jealously looked on and pointed out, "Even though Matt may have technically found him, I'm the one who orchestrated The Great Idea(TM) of looking for him. And the one who recorded the Stoneybrook remix of Sending Our Love Down the Well Construction Site featuring Logan on bongos."
  • When I reread this, I tried to make a mental note of people who could have kidnapped him. You know, just in case I remembered wrong and he really was stolen. At the top of my list, crazy old Mrs. Towne. I can imagine her defense. "I just wanted a little boy of my own to play with! My own son's all grown up now and the only boys I have are little gingerbread boys! Wouldn't Jake love to live with the gingerbread boys?"
Next. The old lady, Aunt Tea, from the Bewitchin' Pool episode of the Twilight Zone. (Only slightly creepier than Mrs. Towne, really.)


But the right answer, of course. He's being fattened up at Morbidda Destiny's crib. Just 'cause Karen Brewer's an ass gasket doesn't mean Morbidda can't really be a witch.

This was sort of a fun book when I was younger. But today it just scares me to think that you could fall down a construction site and not be found for days. What if Kristy hadn't been searching? Would he have died down there?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

BSC #37: Dawn and the Older Boy

Click to view full size image


At Kristy's house, Dawn meets Travis, a sixteen year old friend of Kristy's brother Charlie, who just moved to Connecticut from California. She falls for him and he hangs out with her a couple of times, buys her some presents, and gives her some fashion tips, which she follows to the letter. Dawn's mother and stepfather are understandably skeeved by this (thank you, some marginally responsible parenting at long last). Then one day, Dawn hears from Kristy that Travis has a new girlfriend, Sara, and she's devastated. She even follows Travis on one of his dates and tries to confront him, but ends up looking stupid. In the end, she phones Travis to tell him off. (And this, Travis, is why you don't pay any attention to your friend's little sister's friends.)

Sideplot. Eight year old James Hobart (of the Australian Hobarts) is putting on a play called Little Dog Lost with his two younger brothers, Matthew and Johnny, Myriah and Gabbie Perkins, and their dog Chewy. Chewy plays a lost dog and Myriah wanders through a shopping mall trying to find his owner. I'd say this was an abysmal failure of a play but then I realized that this can't be much worse than Pal Joey on Broadway. Zach, a douchey neighborhood boy, picks on James for putting on a play and hanging out with girls instead of doing cool American boy things like playing sports. James puts on his play despite Zach's teasing, but after the play is put on, Zach drags James off to play instead of letting him talk to his adoring fans.
  • The cover. Oh, the cover. Dawn stares adoringly at a scary looking man on the cover as children romp in the foreground. I peer closely at the man because despite his scariness he looks sort of familiar. ("Aaron Eckhart? Is that you? Get out of that Two-Face get-up and into my car away from the underage girl.") What illustrator Hodges Soileau forgot to draw in: Chris Hansen saying, "Why don't you take a seat right over there?" to Friend Travis.
  • Why does no one ever ask Travis, "What bring you to Stoneybrook?" Probably because the answer would be, "Oh, well, I wasn't very welcome there. You know. Since the incident." Of course most men hoping to escape extradition run away to France, not Connecticut, and most of them are smart enough not to re-establish relationships with thirteen year olds, but oh well.
  • Fashion alert. At the slumber party at Kristy's place, Claudia holds a white hoop earring up to her face and asks Dawn if she thinks it's too much. Since it's about the size of a doorknob, Dawn says yes. It's 1993, if anything, that's understated. Since the same conversation takes place later between Dawn and Sara, my theory is this is Ann M. Martin's way of showing how much she disapproves of gaudy earrings and how all girls should, if they have to, only wear plain gold studs. Or sheep, if they're in.
  • Dawn's uber excited because she feels like Travis is her soulmate. Why? Because Travis tells Dawn that he used to live on the ocean back in Sunny Cali and that he loved taking long walks on the beach. Dawn gapes, "'You did? We didn't live on the ocean, but I used to take long walks, too.'" Later, Travis and Dawn bond over a shared hatred of Mondays, an appreciation for Lite FM radio, and a love of "Everybody Loves Raymond" ("It's so...bland, so...inoffensive!" "I know!").
  • Dawn crushing on Travis: "...I have never met anyone whose feelings were so close to my own. We could have been twins." Who ghostwrote this one? The spirit of V.C. Andrews?
  • A few days after Dawn meets Travis, he shows up at her pad to hang out. There, he talks non stop about himself, constantly interrupting Dawn. Dawn: "So I guess you like Stoneybrook High-" Travis: "You bet!...The first day I was there, I was invited to join five clubs. Five!...And once they found out I play soccer and tennis...they drafted me on the spot." Dawn says something, but Travis doesn't seem to listen. Speak up, Dawn, he can't hear you! He's too awesome.


  • Travis convinces Dawn that she should cut a few inches off her hair to give it more "lift." He brings her some haircombs and a blue necklace, and also tells her that she should wear blue a lot to bring out her eyes. Then Travis rips off his face mask to reveal the heads of both Clinton Kelly and Stacey London, and doesn't Dawn know that she should buy mom-jeans that fit the widest part of her and get them tailored where necessary and wear plenty of A-line blouses to emphasize her waist?
  • Instead of going, "Don't call me baby!" Dawn waits demerely until Travis has left. Time to go rewrite the SCUM Manifesto? The minute he's gone, Dawn runs inside and screams, "'Mary Anne!...Get a brush and some scissors. We have work to do!'"
  • Then after school one day, Claudia invites the other girls over for ice cream and homemade applesauce (something sugarless for Stacey). Stacey says no because she has to go study so Claudia turns to Dawn, asking her if she wants to come. Dawn is thinking about lying because she doesn't want to be rude about turning down the ice cream. (The fuck? You can just have the old-person food!) Besides, Claudia knows you want to marry a carrot. It's not like she offered you baby veal heads on a stick and cackled about how there was literally nothing "healthy" for you to eat. (Okay, I know Claud would never do that--it's a personal fantasy of my own.) Crisis averted: Travis shows up and asks her if she'd like to go shopping with him downtown for a present for his dad. And by dad you mean probation officer, right, sir Skeevesalot?
  • Later, they go to Burger Bite. Travis takes away Dawn's menu, putting his hands over hers to indicate he knows what they'll both have. I expect Dawn to break out into a resounding chorus of You Don't Own Me but instead, Dawn worries over what he'll order for her. She's afraid that he'll order burgers and that she'll have to choke down red meat and then vomit it up later in the bathroom to avoid displeasing him. Dawn further revokes her feminist card by being so relieved that Travis only orders grilled cheese sandwiches that she practically hurls her hemp jockey shorts at him. Oh, so you only make rude remarks about disgusting processed cheese and cow carcasses to lowly waitstaff, not to skeevey blond pedos.
  • When Dawn gets home, she's busted. Mary Anne told Sharon and Richard about her date with Travis. They think the whole thing is creepy. Sharon softens when Dawn tells her that Travis is from California, saying, "''Maybe we're making too big a deal out of this.'" Oh, well, that's all right. Because if he were from Iowa, that would be weird. Richard (along with Sadako) just stares at them, like, the hell? Come on, guys, listen to the only person in the room likely to know the statutory rape laws for Connecticut.
  • Okay, so, according to Dawn, guys from Cali rule. Here's a list of guys Dawn would therefore find awesome:


Oh, sorry. You want the more stereotypical California boy.


  • Well, Dawn, you SAID you liked older California dudes. And to be fair, judging by the cover of Dawn and the Older Boy, it looks a lot like Dawn would go for the above pictured gentlemen. The guy on the book cover looks slightly more mummified. I have to confess (no, NOT that I have a thing for poor old Brian Wilson, bless his uber talented but mentally unstable soul), that I thought Richard was being a douchebag when I first read this. (I was nine, man!) Now I can't help thinking how he seems to be the only thing preventing Dawn and Mary Anne from being sold into white slavery. Ted Bundy himself could get his hands on any kids in Sharon's custody by saying, "It's cool, it's cool. I'm from Californy! Also, I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night."
  • Kristy mentions at a BSC meeting that Travis is seeing a high school girl. "'I don't know her name, but she's this fantastic looking girl who's captain of the swim team...'" There go any lingering doubts I had about Kristy's heterosexuality.
  • Dawn gets upset about Travis dating a new girl. Kristy points out that Travis never took Dawn on an actual date, so why is she going all Amy Fisher on him and his new girlfriend? Claudia points out, "'If somebody visits you at your house and brings you presents, it's like a date. And if they take you shopping after school, that's like a date, too.'" First off, don't feed Dawn's delusions after midnight. Second, really? So that means I've been on dates with my Uncle Richard, Aunt Miriam, and Santa Claus?
  • Dawn wonders what the new girl has that she doesn't have, since Travis must have found Dawn attractive, too. Gee, maybe the peace of mind that comes from not pulling an Erroll Flynn?
  • When Dawn stalks Travis and Sara (the new girlfriend) and then confronts them, Travis is pretty relaxed about it. He introduces Dawn to Sara and Sara goes, "Dawn Schafer...the little girl you told me about...I'm sure you've turned her into a real beauty, Travis.'" So Travis told his girlfriend about how he tried to make over a thirteen year old girl, and she thinks it's awesome? Either she's just come from a lobotomy appointment or Travis is dating the Marquise de Mertreuil (that's the Glenn Close character in Dangerous Liaisons for you non-literary folks, and the Sarah Michelle Gellar character from Cruel Intentions for you younger folks).
  • I'm sure most of you remember the part where Dawn responds, "'I was already a beauty!'" Slow down there, Schafer. Take a deep breath, put down the bunny, and walk away.
  • At the end of the James Hobart subplot, James lets Zachary pull him away after the play. Mary Anne makes a comparison in the club notebook between James's situation and the Dawn/Travis thing (Zach trying to change James like Travis with Dawn). There's no satisfying conclusion where James tells Zach off. Odd, because the BSC isn't known for its David Chase-esque lack of closure. My theory is that Ann M. really wanted to put in a "Karen being all imaginative chapter," and there just wasn't enough space for a chapter where James Learns an Important Lesson. So I like to imagine that at some point, not shown in the book, Zachary's all, "Comb the sweet tarts out of your beard and lose the accent, Croc," and James responds, "Don't try to change me, baby!"
  • Mary Anne explains that Travis is no good for Dawn, asking Dawn if she remembers My Fair Lady. "I saw it a long time ago. We rented it once." "Then I guess you remember the story. You know how proper Professor Higgins turns Eliza Doolittle...into his 'fair lady'?" Mary Anne says she hated that, and it dawns on Dawn that she's become a mini Stepford gal. Let's make this SLIGHTLY more realistic.
Mary Anne: "Dawn, do remember Grease?"

Dawn: "Sure, we rented it when Peter Lerangis was ghostwriting and Ann M. was away at a knitting convention so she couldn't disapprove."

Mary Anne: "Then I guess you remember the story. You know how John Travolta prefers Olivia Newton-John when she's an overly made up skank with black leather spray on pants?"

Dawn: "Not really. I was eyeing Jeff Conaway's package the whole time. Wait, are you saying Travis would like me better if I wore leather pants? To the mall!"
  • Towards the end, the BSC members discuss how Dawn told Travis off. Dawn starts to smile while Kristy says something and they ask her what's up. She says that Travis needs a few fashion tips of his own--like she should have told Travis to lose the stonewashed jeans (Dawn, you hussy!). Stacey says that Dawn would have been wasting her breath, as she makes a mental note to hide her own stonewashed denim dresses before the next sleepover party at her house. Sidenote, these aren't stonewashed, but can't you totally see Stacey wearing them?


  • At the end, Mary Anne and Logan play matchmaker and try to get Dawn to write to Lewis, Logan's hayseed cousin from Louisville. They correspond to each other, and Dawn concludes that Lewis isn't so bad. Hmmm. He's a Southern bumpkin with a heart of gold. She's an insecure vegan wannabe. They fight crime. There's actually a follow up to this book, Dawn's Big Date, where Dawn meets Lewis and makes an ass out of herself. Yes, an even bigger ass than she was in this book. I really want to recap it now.
In conclusion, I don't blame Dawn for dropping everything for a guy. However, what pisses me off is that Ann M. markets her as being the Individual BSC member, the one who's not afraid to take a stand and eat some tofu, when in actuality, she has about as much individuality and feminist spirit as a Spice Girl. And not one of the marginally talented ones like Geri Halliwell. I'm thinking more like Baby Spice.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Both Sides of Time



I think this is the only character I really hate more than the girl from the Terrorist. She's so condescending, it burns. Readers, meet Annie Lockwood. She's a beautiful, romantic, but intensely self absorbed and stupid teenager from 1995 who seems to love meddling where she doesn't belong.


No, no, no, don't demean Cher like that! Annie's even more self absorbed than everyone's favorite updated Jane Austen character. So, Annie's got this attractive (but dumb) boyfriend, Sean, who's all about working on cars, and doesn't give a crap about things like buying bonbons and flowers for Annie or taking his girlfriend to the local megaplex to swoon over Keanu (cool, that makes two of us). This summer, Annie's thinking what a disappointment her unromantic boyfriend is and wondering how she can mold him into someone she can be proud of, like the guy from Kate and Leopold or Mr. Darcy or some other walking cliche. Our Annie wishes she could go back to a time when men valued romance, when courtship mattered. (And where the status of her hymen was a bigger deal than the thoughts in her head because clearly Annie has a slightly better chance than having some of the former.)

On the last day of school, Sean's working on his ride outside the town's huge mansion, Stratton Point, which is going to be torn down soon. Annie goes to visit him. She wanders into the mansion and falls back 100 years in time. (Tell me you didn't see that one coming!) She sees something odd on a staircase, and then she's in 1895 where meets a cute eighteen year old boy by the name of Hiram Stratton, Jr. His friends call him Strat (so I'll be referring to him as Hiram Stratton, Jr.--no, I kid, but only because writing out his full name would be too annoying for words). Strat lives at the mansion with his sister, father, and house full of servants. Strat marvels at Annie's wanton ways--her lack of a hat, her tendency to call men she's barely met by their first name--and the two giggle and make eyes at each other on the beach. Lurve! Good thing I stocked up on Tums.

Along the way, Annie meets Devonny (Strat's younger sister), Harriett (who's engaged to be engaged to Strat), Walker Walkley (Strat's devil may care best friend who stalks about seducing maids and hopes to marry Devonny for her money), Aunt Ada (Harriett's creepy chaperone, since Harriett is a rich orphan), and ugly old Mr. Rowwells who wants everyone to invest in his awesome idea of having mayonnaise come pre-jarred (I make a mental note to buy stock). Anyway, it turns out that one of the servants, Matthew, is dead. Pushed down the stairs. Devonny suspects foul play. The Irish maid, Bridget, gets framed for it at first, but it turns out that Mr. Rowwells and Aunt Ada did it. They conspired to get Harriett engaged to Mr. Rowwells instead and then plan to bump off Harriett and split the money. Matthew the servant overheard this and he had to be destroyed.

Florinda, Mr. Stratton's wife du jour (yeah, Mr. Stratton's one of those guys who's midway through a midlife crisis at all times, always trading in for a younger model of wife and horseful carriage) spies on Harriett and Mr. Rowwells up in the tower towards the end and realizes that Mr. Rowwells plans to kill Harriett. Mr. Rowwells tells Harriett his fiendish plan before trying to push her out of the tower, but then Florinda takes a gun and shoots him. Everyone figures out it was Mr. Rowwells and Aunt Ada. Then, at the end Annie goes forward in time again, leaving the love of her life behind. Lame. She went back in time and it wasn't for some cool purpose like making sure her parents fell in love or meeting George Carlin?

Let's see, what else am I leaving out of this strained, strained plot. Strat and Annie flirting a lot. Me making several trips to the bathroom. Several iterations of Mr. Stratton pounding his fist on the desk and screaming, "You will marry Harriett, not this tramp!" and Strat defiantly saying, "I love that tramp, I mean, she's not a tramp, really, not when you get to know her, I mean, aside from the whole appearing out of nowhere without a hat or garter belt, you see-" and Mr. Stratton being all, "I HAVE NO SON" and it's all very Jazz Singer, really. On to the snark points.
  • In 1995, Annie and all the other girls wear long white dresses on the last day of school. For no good reason other than the fact that CaroB. needed Annie to wear a white dress to fall back in time wearing something somewhat suitable? Though in 1895, Annie looks very, very slutty. Strat certainly gives her the eye. Uncovered ankles! You can see her bare circuits!
  • CaroB. once again illustrates her distinct lack of imagination and/or creativity. My favorite character? Walker Walkley, man about town. (Did you know that your last name's an adverb?) Between him and Billy Williams (in other words, William Williams) of The Terrorist, I'm thinking that if Scholastic won't pay for good writers, they at least have to spring for someone who will come up with better names. Anyroad, as far as "bad guys" go, Walker Walkley is the Percy the Small Engine of nemeses. He's down on his luck money wise, even though he's upper class, so he sponges off friends like Strat. He tries to seduce the maid, Bridget, by grabbing ass and going "Hey, I can has SEX now? kthnxbai."


She spits in his face and then tells him that if he's not careful he'll end up like the servant, Matthew. Which is to say dead. Get it? She's all fiery-tempered? 'Cause she's Irish?
  • Oh, forget someone to come up with new character names. How about a continuity editor. Like for the part when Annie departs for the previous century, Sean doesn't notice her bike is left behind, but it's supposed to be a grave signal to the reader that Something Is Amiss. Then when she's with Strat, he's surprised to see a second bicycle next to his (Annie's), and the two race off on their bikes. Then when she's back in her own time, she notices her bike that apparently never made the journey back. Do they do this to torment me? They must. It probably takes more work to make these glaring errors than it does to remember there's a bicycle.
  • When Strat introduces Annie to Harriett and Devonny, they goggle at him because bringing back hatless, short skirted Annie is the 1895 equivalent of bringing home an overweight prostitute in a glow in the dark tube top and then taking a crap in a plastic bag. But in any case, the girls take Annie up to Harriett's room because they want to help her more look like a lady of the day. Also, because CaroB. figured she could win brownie points with the librarians if she put in a chapter where present day girls could learn some historical points of fashion in 1895. Annie looks surprised to see no facial cosmetics on Harriett's vanity, despite seeing lots of hair combs and jewelry. Imagined excised dialogue: Back in 1895, uh, I mean, today, women didn't wear cosmetics on the face unless they were actresses, whores, or cheap hussies, Harriett says, eying Annie's painted face. (Duh. Ladies pinch. Whores use rouge.) Then while being laced up with a corset, Annie asks the other two girls if they aren't always fainting. They explain that fainting is ladylike. More excised dialogue: Back in 1895, we didn't know about female liberation! I half expect Annie to inquire about hysteria, another thing she learned about in history class, and for them to break out an early vibrator prototype.
  • CaroB. seems to take a special pleasure in describing Harriett. She'll never have a wasp waist no matter how much they corset her, she's got thin, mousy hair, crooked teeth, etc. Annie looks over at Harriett's dress and thinks how beautiful it is. "And Harriett, poor Harriett, was not. She just wasn't pretty. Annie's heart broke for all plain girls in all centuries...she saw the terrible contrast between herself and Harriett." Go away, Annie. You're bothering me. Away with ye, to the Twilight Zone episode where the standard of beauty is bulldog faced people and where pretty girls make graves are subjected to endless surgery!


  • Annie explains that she is a Lockwood (Anna Sophia Lockwood to be precise) when the girls ask her name. She asks Bridget, the maid who's helping her dress, about her roots and Harriett explains "'She's Irish'...as if saying she's sub-human." Ooh. Forget meeting a guy whose first and last name are the same, this is way cooler. A real live walking stereotype. Also, I can forgive Harriett being all racist and classist since she's a product of her time. Annie takes to being a member of the elite class awfully fast, though.
  • Let's see, more reasons to hate Annie. Later that night, after dancing with Strat all night at a party at the mansion, Annie relaxes in a guest bedroom. As Bridget brushes Annie's hair, she thinks, "Everybody should be pampered like this...Of course, nobody will do it for Bridget, and that's where it all breaks down, but I might as well enjoy it anyway." After this scene ends, I imagine Annie leaning back and sighing contentedly, wondering if she'll have time to visit the Hottentot Venus this week, then opening up the Modest Proposal that Harriett loaned her, and wondering just why the Irish really can't eat their own young. Oh, days of Empire!
  • Annie realizes how chauvinist men were back then when Strat tells Devonny she won't be allowed to join the Red Cross. God, it's taken you this long? Have you never actually had a history lesson? Heard of the suffragettes? Seen Mary Poppins? But then she, "realize[s] that Sean [controls] her as fully as the Stratton men [control] Devonny. And [she lets] him." Uh, you just told us that his big flaw was that he barely even acknowledges you. Unless you're referring to the fact that he asks you to hand him muddy wrenches when he's pimping his ride. Yeah, Annie, that's right. It's totally like rereading Taming of the Shrew. Sean being the poor put upon Katherine, of course.
  • Harriett's sad that Strat doesn't pay her any attention now that Annie's in town. Suddenly creepy Mr. Rowwells isn't looking so disgusting. Well, I mean, when you stand him up next to a chimp or Perez Hilton. She spends a lot time of time talking to Mr. Rowwells on the night of the party. The next morning at breakfast, Strat and Annie are busy blowing each other kisses when they think no one's looking (no, I'm not making this up, and two, you can't throttle them, gentle reader, because I've got dibs on that) when suddenly Harriett makes her engagement announcement. Strat thinks it's rude of her to do so publicly because he doesn't have time to figure out how to react. So it's okay for you to play footsie with the bare ankled hussy but not for your sort of fiancee to get a life of her own.
  • But there's no time to dwell on matters of marriage. The po-po's are here because Devonny called them to investigate Matthew's death. Even though her father forbade her from doing so when they found Matthew's body yesterday. (Devonny, and I, both inquired, "Why?" and Big Daddy Stratton replied, "I need a good way to look cruel, imperious, and vaguely suspicious to the kids reading this piece of crap we're in."). So Mr. Rowwells reveals the identity of Matthew's killer (I refrain from smacking Mr. Rowwells, but ask why the fuck he waited this long if he knew all along and he responds, "Well...no one asked. Want to hear about my idea for mayonnaise?").
  • Hellmann Rowwells gets up in Anna Sophia's grill and is all J'accuse! and she runs off. Because that'll do wonders for your credibility. Is there a white bronco in the stable you can ride off on to make yourself look any guiltier? As she attempts to escape, it's no use. "Being outside won't save me, she thought. Only time will save me." I swear to god, Caroline B. Cooney's prose gets even more edgy and insightful the drunker I get. Strat screams at her to stop. It turns out that Mr. Rowwells was pointing at Bridget, not Annie. "'Just a fight between servants!'" as Strat puts it. Oh, well, that's all right then.
  • Back at Chateau Stratton, Walker Walkley walks (yes, I've been waiting to do that) in and corroborates Mr. Rowwells' story by informing everyone what an evil character Bridget is. He tells the waiting crowd that yesterday Bridget savagely threw herself at him and wouldn't take "No means no" for an answer: "This prostitute attacked me, you can see she left her mark!" But now who will save little Cosette from from the evil Thernardiers? The gendarmes drag Bridget off, screaming, "Faith and begorra," counting her rosary beads, and wondering about the fate of her Lucky Charms.
  • Annie goes back. Back to the future! Enter my favorite character. An overworked pissed off cop who finds wayward Annie as soon as she returns and doesn't take any guff. It turns out time was going on even when she was gone, so her parents are freaking out. The cop yells at her, "'You just went off, without letting anybody know where or why, the way stupid thoughtless teenagers do.'" Yes! Though I'd love Nameless Police Cop much better if he'd screech at her for not knowing the concept of class conflict, but oh well. Maybe Freddy Engels can pop up when Annie's traveling through history yet AGAIN to yell stuff about the distribution of labor.
  • So, while Annie's back in 1995 for a while, time still goes on for the people of 1895. Devonny and Florinda ask Mr. Stratton to free Bridget because Bridget was walking in the garden holding Florinda's parasol when the murder happened. Mr. Stratton says he went to the jail to free Bridget. Only he was lying. (Note to Devonny and Florinda, next time you want to free someone, write a song about it. The title Hurricane isn't taken yet, either.) Devonny thinks all is well. Strat's sad, but I don't care. While I focus on the murder, I assume Strat holes up in his room with Ankles from Around the Globe and Barely Corseted (You Can See Their Bare Chemises!).
  • So, Devonny, a lovesick Strat, and Walker Walkley head to New York City to visit Mr. Stratton's first wife (Devonny and Strat's mother). At least we don't have to hear Devonny bragging to Walker about how she and Strat are bi-statal and doesn't that totally compensate for coming from a broken home? (Dawn Schafer, are you listening?) Along the way, Annie time travels back again for no real reason (c'mon, CaroB., would it kill you to come up with a time travel device of some sort? it doesn't have to be an outdated but hilarious looking car--it could even be a vortex), and then Devonny runs into Bridget's ex, Jeb. Ooh, awkward. No, actually, he mentions that he's just come from prison where he was visiting Bridget and then Devonny realizes that Father lied.
  • When the Scooby gang realizes that Bridget's still in jail (god, Bridge, you and Shazzer should NEVER have shacked up with that dubious American in Thailand), they head out. Devonny shrieks, "'We must rescue her forthwith!'" Annie and I both think, "Forthwith? Really?" Except that I'm internally snarking while Annie is loving this bizarre word usage and thinking what a great sister-in-law Devonny will make. Oh yeah, your marriage to Strat. Cool, maybe you can disrupt the space time continuum on your honeymoon.
  • At that moment, Annie reveals that Aunt Ada and Mr. Rowwells killed Matthew. How does she know? Oh, she just now remembered that she saw something weird on the stairs when she first traveled through time. She heard the sound of Aunt Ada's silk shawl and smelled Mr. Rowwell's pipe. Oh, good, because no one else back then smoked pipes or wore shawls. Contrivance, thy name is CaroB.
  • Then it turns out that Walker Walkley also lied about Bridget, so Strat cuts him off and tells him he's on his own. Strat is shocked that Walker would lie. (So am I. Walker Walkley wasn't in on the murder plot. It makes absolutely no sense that he would lie. Who edited this book? CaroB's dog? At one point Walker says something to himself about trying to get engaged to Harriett because he wants to marry up, so maybe in a previous draft, this plot point actually made sense.) As it happens, Strat takes matters of honor seriously. He remembers fondly the poem they had to learn at school that went: "How could I love you, dear, so much, loved I not honor more." He tells Walker that this is not how gentlemen act as Annie looks on adoringly. Then Annie comes in her bloomers a little as Strat starts reciting The White Man's Burden.
  • Up in the tower, while all this is going on, Harriett and Mr. Rowwells talk. Mr. Rowwells, as I said, almost kills Harriett, after telling her how he seduced her by making her feel beautiful, but really just wanted her money even though he really finds her repulsive. (Too bad you don't live in the future, Mr. Rowwells, because you, Ivana Trump, Anna Nicole Smith, and the Billy Wilder character from Sunset Blvd. could so form a support group.) And what is Harriett thinking? "I don't want to be plain! I didn't want to live out my life plain, and I don't want to die plain." Aw. Well, would you be cool with shuffling off this mortal coil if we had some rhinoplasty and lipo available first?
  • Back at the ranch, Florence shoots Mr. Rowwells (no, he's not dead, he's just injured--walk it off, MayoMan!), Aunt Ada is dragged off, Harriett cries because Strat's heart belongs to Annie, and everyone's favorite spunky Irish maid is freed. Annie decides that even though she loves Strat, she must go back to the future and tend to her own garden. Plus, she thinks that poor, ugly Harriett deserves Strat more than Annie does because even though Strat won't burn for Harriett as he burns for Annie, he'll be kind to her. And that's all a plain girl like Harriett can hope for. So whatever Yenta brings, Harriett will take, right? Of course, right. Oops, wrong work of art. Incidentally, it's too bad Strat can't get that burning checked out.
In conclusion, I hated Annie Lockwood as a wee Sadako. I hate her even more now. Really, it's not even a guilty pleasure like The Face on the Milk Carton. The whole time I was reading this I was wishing I could put it down and pick up Daughters of Eve or Killing Mr. Griffin. Now, since CaroB. wrote a total of four Annie Lockwood time traveling books (what nerve, even Zemeckis limited himself to only three time traveling films), the question is do I put myself through reading even more of this crap? I vaguely remember tuberculosis playing a role later on in the series. C'mon, don't you want to see me snark sanitariums?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

BSC #66: Maid Mary Anne


So, the general consensus for how these books get written is that Ann M. wrote a few outlines and delegated the actual writing to the ghostwriters. (I also like to believe that the top ranking ghostwriters, like Ellen Miles and Peter Lerangis, had some of their own books ghostwritten.) Anyway, my point is that Ann still had a lot of influence over what she was writing because only she would write a YA/children's lit book in which learning French embroidery is cooler than watching a drug special starring the Ninja Turtles, wearing ridiculously large trousers, or anything else that kids were really doing in 1993.

Nola Thacker ghostwrote this one. She's no Lerangis but she's credited with writing for a series called Laguna Beach (as in the real Laguna Beach?!) The book I looked up on amazon.com starts with the phrase, "'Headbanging sex.'" Right off the bat, you know this ghostwriter gets around. So my theory is that Ann M. may have commissioned a book about helping out a sweet old lady, but Nola conceived of it as a book about a passive aggressive, old biddy (perhaps a scathing send up of Ann M.) whose only pleasures in life involve writing daily letters to the Sun, obsessively re-organizing her quilt collection and ordering Mary Anne around.

So, in this book, Mary Anne meets an older woman, Mrs. Towne, who's super into sewing point and asks her for lessons. She agrees to pay Mrs. Towne, but later, Mrs. T falls and hurts her ankle. Mary Anne ends up helping Mrs. Towne around the house in exchange for her lessons, but after a while, Mrs. Towne starts taking advantage of MA. Eventually, she and MA have a talk where Mrs. Towne confesses to calling MA up because she was lonely a lot of the time. (Really? I hear Morbidda Destiny is on Twitter these days.) Mrs. Towne goes back to taking cash for the lessons. She says she'll solve the problem of the housework by hiring a housekeeper which she was planning on doing anyway.

Also, MA and Claudia teach a sewing class to a few kids in Stoneybrook (Nicky, Buddy, Haley, Vanessa, and Charlotte). At one point, Nicky and Buddy quit because a classmate teases them for sewing. They spend a lot of time overcompensating, doing manly things like eschewing cookies and building a fort. But then they rejoin sewing class and the class finishes a quilt with a gardening theme. And because this is the book right before Dawn makes her first travail back to California, there's non stop "Dawn misses California" foreshadowing.
  • As of the first page, it's summer vacation yet again. Mary Anne rushes out the door to sit for the Arnold twins. As she heads out, Dawn looks at the window and says something about how good the sun feels on her face and that it reminds her of sunny California. Mary Anne runs out. As she slams the door, I assume that Dawn sighs and says something like, "Oh, wind. We had that in California, too. And doors."
  • Mary Anne is surprised when she meets Mrs. Towne. Mrs. Towne isn't apple-cheeked or grandmotherly. And she's a little amazed that Mrs. Towne is wearing work pants instead of a dress. (What? You think it's easier to hide Depends in a skirt, is that it, MA? Way to stereotype the elderly.) God, I hate how it's supposed to be shocking in BSC world whenever an old woman wears trousers or doesn't enjoy baking or is registered to vote.
  • Mrs. Towne shows Mary Anne around her house and then shows her the sewing room. When MA enters, she gasps. What? Is it a bug? The embalmed remains of Mr. Towne? (Where the hell is he, anyway? No one ever alludes to him. Even though she's clearly a Mrs. and she does have an adult son. I'm totally banking on there being a A Rose For Emily ending.)
  • Oh, anyway. It's a pleater. It's a machine used for making pleats and smocking. And I don't even care a little. Why am I suddenly reminded of the Frasier where Frasier re-finds his 18th century English salt server and Niles's reaction is: "I've heard you speak about it, but I had no idea it was so magnificent" while Martin and Daphne roll their eyes? Yeah, that's basically my reaction to every sewing related reference in this entire book.
  • So, the Widow Towne agrees to give MA lessons in exchange for cash. When Mary Anne shows up for her first official lesson, she rings the door but doesn't get a response. So she ventures into the house and finds Mrs. Towne lying on the kitchen floor. Oh no! Dead Mrs. Towne! Just kidding. It's more like this.

  • I try to interject with, "Uh, and this is why you need Life Alert. Oh, and while I've got you here, could I sell you some Term Life Insurance? Don't you want to make sure your pleater and quilts are in safe hands when you pass?" But Mary Anne knows just what to do since she's been in an emergency before (see Mary Anne Saves the Day). She calls up 911 and then calls Richard (her lawyer-dad) to make sure that the Widow Towne can't hold her liable for anything, just in case.
  • After Mrs. Towne goes to the hospital, Mary Anne mentions to the BSC that even though she could have gone home, she stayed a few days extra since she would pretty much be on her own at home. This book was written in '93? Damn, Medicare ain't what it used to be. Also, all this and it takes her an entire book of exploiting a teenage girl to shell out for a housekeeper?
  • So Mary Anne and Claud take the kids to Mood to buy stuff for the quilt. They gush over all the different kinds of fabric. Like brown corduroy for a pansy face or perhaps velvet for a rose. After I revive myself by promising that I'll open a new packet of knock off Oreos if I finish this chapter, Mary Anne announces, "Designers, you have less than a minute left. Let's go. Designers!"
  • At one point, the sewing class takes a road trip to see a special guest who will hopefully inspire them with their projects. (Ooh, Sarah Jessica Parker? No! Diane von Furstenberg?) No, it's a trip to Mrs. Towne's House of Undocumented Workers. While Mary Anne tuts over the state of Mrs. Towne's now dirty house, the kids ooh and ahh over the quilts. Really? REALLY? Because I see the visit going more like this. Buddy: "Ew, this place has got old-woman stink." And Mrs. Towne looking sad till Mary Anne pipes up with, "Don't listen to him--you've got an enchanting musk."
  • Mary Anne comes over for a lesson post ankle break. Mrs. Towne asks Mary Anne if she'd like some tea. Mrs. Towne has some trouble with her crutches so when MA asks if she wants help, Mrs. Towne leans on her till they get to the kitchen, she then instructs her on how to make the tea. Mary Anne gets the tea pot, makes the tea, and then Mrs. Towne asks if she could trouble her to unload her groceries. Mary Anne complies as the Widow Towne bats her eye lashes and sighs, "I have always depended on the kindness of spineless adolescents."
  • After, Mrs. Towne smiles menacingly, narrowing her beady eyes. (Okay, okay, she just "[looks] at Mary Anne thoughtfully.") Then she says, "'Mary Anne, instead of paying me for sewing lessons in money, why don't we do some good, old-fashioned bartering.'" Mary Anne catches on right away and asks Mrs. Towne if she's sure this is a fair agreement (that is, MA thinks it might be unfair to Mrs. Towne). Mrs. Towne privately cackles and thinks, "There's one born every minute." First off, if I were MA, I'd be all, "Bartering? I'm not playing the Oregon Trail, you old hag." And second, Mrs. Towne, if you're that cheap, just take a page from Caroline Kennedy and hire an illegal.
  • Dawn has to sit for the Arnold twins midway through the book. She takes them to visit the Stoneybrook Mortuary, otherwise known as Mrs. Towne's humble abode. When she arrives, Mary Anne is mopping the floor. (Yes, this is the part depicted on the cover. Side note, Hodges, what's up with Carolyn Arnold? Crop top? Cowboy boots in summer? Fail!) Mary Anne accidentally tips over the bucket and says to herself, "At least I hadn't dropped the soap." Oh, that's probably what Lyle and Erik Menendez are saying to themselves in the shower every day. Afterward, Dawn asks Mary Anne to come with her so they can hang out when Dawn drops off the twins, but MA's too busy. Dawn sighs, presumably thinking, "Busy? I used to be busy when I lived in California" and leaves.
  • Beep beep! Stacey misses a BSC meeting because her sitting job at the Barretts' runs over. This almost never happens, so it's kind of a big deal. The fact that it never happens in any other book makes me think that Nola Thacker was being all subversive. "So, Ann, you make me write a book where I have to extol the virtues of needlepoint. I'll make a BSC meeting coincide with a sitting job! Muhahaha." Yeah, this is pretty much the equivalent of rumpling your Felix Unger-esque significant other's carefully ironed underwear collection, or putting generic brand mustard on the customer's sandwich when they requested Grey Poupon. But being a ghostwriter is a thankless, hard job, and you takes your pleasures as you can.
  • Later, Mrs. Towne calls MA at two separate BSC meetings because she needs help getting some sewing equipment down from the second floor. Mary Anne's a little pissed the second time, but all she does is respond with, "'Is it an emergency?'" and then when Mrs. Towne sounds hurt, saying that no, it isn't, she storms over, full of resentment and forced good will. Good lord, if this continues, I can so see Mrs. Towne following in Brooke Astor's foot steps. Wearing the same ratty old robe with appliqued kittens romping day in and day out. Confined by Mary Anne to one room of the house. Never given access to her sewing room. Her beloved pleater sold off till one day Annette de la Renta steps in.
  • Then one Saturday, MA drops everything to go to to Mrs. Towne's House of Pain, even though she and Logan have a date to have a picnic lunch and then spend the day together. Turns out there's a wasp in the kitchen and it's distressing Goodwife Towne. Yeah, one time Tucker Carlson came over to show off his collection of argyle bow ties and just would not leave, but I dealt with it myself, Mrs. Towne, so grow a pair.
  • Oh, and Mrs. Towne needs yet another box from the sewing room. (The fuck? Why didn't she just have MA bring them all down last time?) When Mary Anne tells Dawn where she and Logan are heading, Dawn eye rolls till MA asks her how she'd like to be old and helpless. Dawn: "'I'm not into helpless.'" No, of course not. Unless they're gorgeous single women with three kids who can barely do basic housework (cough, cough, Mrs. Barrett). Or unless it involves cutting up soda rings to protect the stupider seagulls and sea turtles who probably should remove themselves from the gene pool. Or helpless but delicious veal calves.


Wow, that is pretty cute. Sorry, Mrs. Towne, you can't compete.

  • So then after Mary Anne does Ann M. the Widow Towne's bidding, she and Logan try to head off into the sunset to enjoy the rest of their day. Except Mrs. Towne guilts them into staying and having picnic lunch on her sun porch. Mary Anne and Logan have nary a cojone nor an ovary between the lot of them so they give in and take their pimento cheese sandwiches over to the porch. Mrs. Towne and Logan even "[have] a long talk about the merits of pimento cheese sandwiches versus regular cheese sandwiches." Really? And then did you discuss the differences between crushed and cubed ice? (Crushed ice just being too much goshdarned excitement for a weekday.) Why do I also have the sinking feeling that Mrs. Towne is just waiting for Logan to get up so that she can get in a good pinch through his Dockers and then blame it on Mary Anne or her impending senility? This segment is SO Nola's revenge for that time Ann M. had Nola and her beau over for high tea and then wouldn't let them leave until she'd shown her every single one of her thimbles from around the world and each needle in her collection of interesting looking needles. ("This one's shaped like a needle! Isn't that something?" "Uh...")
  • In the end, the kids give their friendship quilt (which they make awfully quickly for beginner sewers) to the Widow Towne. Ugh. I changed my mind. Mrs. Towne isn't a pathetic old lady. She just farmed out all her housework to Mary Anne and instead of getting a hard smack on her bony old behind, now she got a quilt out of it? She's a mastermind who fakes a sweet old homemaker persona, like Martha Stewart or Mom.


Below are a number of items I found on the Internet that I'm almost positive that Mrs. Towne had to have had a hand in making. It's not such a stretch to think that a lonely old woman whose only child has moved to Missouri to get away from her would think that a Yorkie wants--no, NEEDS--a bathrobe with an appliqued duck on it.


And look at this. A onesie with a stitched on monkey. Presumably sent to her firstborn grandchild, only to be stamped with RETURN TO SENDER when said son in Missouri realized that Mom had sent his ten year old an outfit with an eyeless simian.


After being rebuffed by everyone--her latest runaway kitten (please, don't you think there's a reason that an insane old woman like Mrs. Towne doesn't have a cat or eighty in her house?), her son, her dead husband who refuses to answer the seances--Mrs. Towne started to go a little insane. Somewhere in the bowels of her cute little cottage, there's probably a room filled with stuff like this:


And what will happen now that Mary Anne has dumped her? She's going to snap entirely. I give you Mrs. Towne's most frightening, post Mary Anne work. To look upon it is to go mad. THEY'RE DOGS! ...AND THEY'RE PLAYING POKER!


In conclusion, I just want to say that I almost wish this had been a Jessi book so I could work in a Driving Miss Daisy reference. But then I guess the idea of Jessi as a maid would get the black readers even more pissed than they were at the thought of the new African American Disney princess being called Maddy.

My date with Ann M., or Book Expo 2009


My date with Ann went off as expected. My companion and I did not allude to BSC work but did tell Ann we liked her work. We were rewarded with a small smile (whoa!) and a signature on her new book, Everything for a Dog. I suppose she doesn't hate the BSC because I saw a youtube clip of her signing copies of a BSC graphic novel at Comic Con (looking incredibly pained to be in the same venue as Storm Troopers and people who don't know who Lucille Ball or Desi Arnaz are, but I digress).

There were also girls ahead of us who had a copy of Kristy's Great Idea and they wanted Ann to sign it. Since she neither burst into flames nor challenged the girls to eat their own heads, I guess all was good. Technically, authors are not even meant to sign outside, non book paraphernalia, so by signing the contraband book, I guess she was making a big step. "Look, children, Mama hasn't forsaken you! Come to my bosom, my little ones. Yes, even you, Abby. No, not you, Mallory."

In honor of Ann M., stay tuned for a post about the BSC member most like Ann, Mary Anne, later today or tomorrow.